Ditto for professional development, be it from an AEA or from the district level. As the swiss-army knife of online tools, you can use the pieces of Moodle that serve your purpose. Here are some of the main purposes for professional development that people use Moodle:
1. ONLINE COURSES
This is often what you think of. Moodle allows you a space where you can not only place your content, but you can group students, have them submit their work, and meet to discuss and get information. The built-in forums, assignments, and gradebook make this the natural tool for online courses, for which teachers can get licensure renewal credit (or graduate credit).
AEAs aren't the only ones using Moodle for online professional development, however. Districts, such as Ankeny CSD, have used Moodle to host their own courses. Ankeny has offered courses to their staff members, such as Web 2.0 technology, Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and Mentoring and Induction. The courses are hosted on their own Moodle server and are offered by Ankeny staff.
Dianne Peterson, the district coordinator for curriculum and mentoring, mentioned there are many benefits. In a large district like Ankeny, it can target specific needs of teachers and get them connected with each other, even if they are in different buildings. It also allows teachers the flexibility to work with content over the course of a semester. Working over that period of time allows teachers to implement and get coaching/feedback in ways that face-to-face professional development cannot. In this way, online courses are an essential tool in line with the Iowa Professional Development Model.
2. HYBRID COURSES
Also referred to as blended courses, this is a blend of asynchronous learning (learning when the classmates are not meeting together) and synchronous learning (when they are together). That synchronous component is often face-to-face, but with the use of Adobe Connect Pro, those meetings can be virtual.
One consultant I've had the privilege of working with is Brad Niebling, Heartland's alignment consultant. Suffice it to say that Brad's knowledge of alignment in curriculum isn't matched in the state. To connect Brad with other consultants so they could learn principles of alignment, we looked into online options. Brad found a hybrid environment to be the best of both worlds: allowing a synchronous discussion of some difficult abstract terms, and some online asynchronous work to integrate the principles into your own profession. What's more, since it is online, it is set up to be delivered to consultants and educators across the state.
Hybrid is an excellent stepping stone; for teachers who haven't had an online environment, this type of course is a safe way to wade into online professional development.
3. ONLINE REPOSITORIES
Not every form of professional development has to have a direct teacher involved. At a base level, you can use Moodle as a house to store files and resources.
When Susen Schirmer conducted counselor academies for area school counselors, she would regularly distribute handouts and links to websites to counselors. When some counselors were unable to attend (or had lost the files), this meant extra work with sending attachments. That's not to mention the amount of paper that was involved.
She now uses Moodle to hold the Iowa School Counselor networking site. Files and links can be easily updated, and any time a participant misses out on a meeting, they know where to go. And again, since it is online, it has the capability to be used by counselors across the state.
4. ONLINE MODULES
A step up from a repository would be a module. While you still don't have a teacher directly instructing in the class, you have set outcomes and a learning sequence in a module.
We have used other tools to develop modules for subjects such as the mandatory reporting of child abuse or bloodborne pathogens. Moodle is another way to put that material together. Heartland ed tech consultant Denise Krefting has created a number of these. Two of her most recent are modules on Google Sketchup and Adobe Connect Pro. In both, the module takes you through the learning in sequential order, building your knowledge of the subject.
5. ONLINE SOCIAL NETWORKS
I wouldn't recommend using Moodle solely for the purpose of having teachers network with other teachers... there are many other social networking tools like Ning that are simpler to use and more user friendly.
On the other hand, if you want to couple social networking with another purpose on this list, Moodle is exactly what you want. Moodle has forums and choices that allow participants to share ideas and thought easily, just like a Ning. But Moodle makes it much easier to share documents and other resources. When the Iowa School Counselors networking site was created, Susen wanted not only a repository for files, but also a chance for counselors to meet and converse with other counselors. Moodle even has a social group format expressly for this purpose.
6. FACE-TO-FACE PORTAL
Consider this scenario. You would like your district staff to spend your day-long inservice looking at the district's standards and benchmarks. Your staff will be accessing the AEA online resources and finding examples that support the curriculum. Once they do so, they will need to share their findings with other teachers in the district, and write an implementation plan. You will gather those plans at the end of the day to look at and set up observation times. What's more, since your district doesn't have a computer lab with 200 computers in it, or has a big geographic area to cover, you can't have all your teachers (and you!!!) in one space.
Even though none of this is asynchronous professional development, Moodle works great here. You can create a "course" in Moodle and label it for that day. You can post the directions for teachers in the course. You can also upload the standards and benchmarks (if they are a pdf) or link to them (if on the web). And of course, you can link to the online resources as well.
In the course, you can use a forum for teachers to pose questions or share examples of the resources with other teachers. And as the teacher work teams finish their implementation plans, they can submit them to you through a Moodle assignment. Moodle is the structure that allows all these tasks to be brought together into one place. Woodward-Granger is one district in the Heartland area that uses Moodle in this method.
7. PLC/WORKTEAM SPACE
The idea of teacher collaboration in professional development has gained roots in the concept of professional learning communities, as well as teacher quality learning teams or balanced leadership workteams. With any of these, teachers are collaborating with other teachers and driving their own professional development, instead of passively receiving it in a traditional top-down method.
PLCs and other collaborative teams are most limited by time. Bill Ferriter, a big proponent of PLCs recently reminded me via Twitter:
One of the struggles I have is that I just don't have the time--as a classroom teacher---to collaborate. They want us to collaborate---and we'd do a GREAT job---but between planning, grading, parent conferences, there's nothing left. I think many people beyond the classroom forget the crush of tasks that we have to do beyond collaborating with them!"
He's right... I was guilty of that as an administrator, and my administrators were guilty of that as well. The time set aside for PLC collaboration gets eaten up by other issues of the day.
Online learning allows you to converse when you have time and energy, because with forums and wikis, you can have an ongoing asynchronous conversation with your colleagues. Moodle can provide you a space for your group to focus on improving student learning, and in that space, you can hold conversation, resources, a calendar, and more.
8. IMPLEMENTATION SPACE
The benefits that Moodle brings for online courses--a place for common content distribution and sharing files/resources, a place for participant conversation, and a place for individuals to submit their own work--are also benefits it brings for any district implementation.
Several districts do this with individual professional development plans. Moodle can serve as the portal where you post directions for the yearly process. If a district is pushing a specific initative, such as Second Chance Reading or Handwriting Without Tears, you can provide a secure space to share digital resources (check copyright restrictions of a publisher before posting).
Teachers can then post their plans, be it individually with the supervisor through an assignment, or for all to see. Moodle can help you schedule meetings or announce deadlines. Best of all, once the structure is developed, it can be re-used the next year.